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Skin to skin or kangaroo care

posted Mar 26, 2015, 4:52 AM by Melissa Bugeja   [ updated Apr 10, 2015, 2:25 AM ]
Skin to skin also known as kangaroo care was used mostly for premature infants.  However, a multitude of studies have now shown that skin to skin for term healthy infants is just as beneficial.

Skin to skin, meaning having your naked baby put on your naked chest with a blanket on top of you both to keep you warm if need be, has been shown to help with stabilising breathing, temperature, heart beat and also blood sugar levels.  It is also said (although evidence is not conclusive) that it can help increase the milk volume.

When it comes to breastfeeding, if baby is put skin to skin soon after birth for an hour or more, he is more likely to latch on better without any help.  This of course leads to less possibility of developing other common problems like blocked ducts and mastitis.

When your child is premature, skin to skin has also been shown to reduce the amount of time in the hospital and helps prevent neonatal deaths due to premature complications.  Even when very small and mechanically ventilated, they can still be held skin to skin safely!  You can remain skin to skin for as long as you wish (preferably for a minimum of 2 hours) unless the infant becomes physiologically unstable.

Jill Bergman

Separation from mother is highly stressful, and  is enough to make a baby unstable(2;5).
 He feels unsafe, his brain send “danger”signals to the body.  
His brain releases the stress hormone cortisol which increases the heart rate and breathing in a basic 
“fight or flight” instinct(5-7). Somatostatin (which counteracts the growth hormone) is also released and 
acts in the gut to decrease absorption of food and thus inhibit growth(8;9). These stress hormones will stay
 in the body while the baby is separated from Mum.   When returned to Mum, the stress hormones still take
 30 minutes or even an hour to wash out of his system.

All of this intense protest activity uses up vital calories which should be used for growth(12). If the baby’s protest signals are not heeded, the baby may go into an energy-conserving defense mode which lowers heart rate and temperature for prolonged survival(5). This state of “freeze” may look like the baby is asleep, but recent neuroscience research has shown that baby can be  firing avoidance pathways in the brain. A final stage of defense is called “dissociation” in which the baby essentially “tunes out”(7). The ominous part is that the brain of the baby is wiring emotional pathways, adapting to cope with “a dangerous world, where nobody loves me”. This can cause lasting emotional complications which can have major effects later in life for the emotional and mental health of the baby. Adult mental health is based on infant mental health, but now we know that this starts really early, even in the first hour after birth(5).
In summary, separation of the newborn baby from the mother is the primary cause of stress. This can show itself in increased heart rate, blood pressure and decreased oxygen saturation in the blood. This often causes a cascade of problems and complications requiring ever more intervention from the neonatal health system.
Most of this could be avoided by the mind-blowingly simple practice of putting every newborn baby naked onto Mum’s bare chest, drying him and covering both of them. All of the observations and tests can be done while leaving the newborn in his SAFE place. This alternative to separation-stress is called “skin-to-skin contact”(4).

Other Resources:

Kangaroo Mother Care by Nils & Jill Bergman
FAQ Skin to Skin by LLL Canada